Big Banks Get Big Time Changes

Jun 17, 7:13 PM (ET)

hp3By JIM KUHNHENN and MARTIN CRUTSINGER

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP) – From simple home loans to Wall Street’s most exotic schemes, the government would impose and enforce sweeping new “rules of the road” for the nation’s battered financial system under an overhaul proposed Wednesday by President Barack Obama.

Aimed at preventing a repeat of the worst economic crisis in seven decades, the changes would begin to reverse a determined campaign pressed in the 1980s by President Ronald Reagan to cut back on federal regulations.

Obama’s plan would do little to streamline the alphabet soup of agencies that oversee the financial sector. But it calls for fundamental shifts in authority that would eliminate one regulatory agency, create another and both enhance and undercut the authority of the powerful Federal Reserve.

The new agency, a consumer protection office, would specifically take over oversight of mortgages, requiring that lenders give customers the option of “plain vanilla” plans with straightforward and affordable terms. Lenders who repackage loans and sell them to investors as securities would be required to retain 5 percent of the credit risk – a figure some analysts believe is too low.

In all, the Obama’s broad proposal cheered consumer advocates and dismayed the banking industry with its proposed creation of a regulator to protect consumers in all their banking transactions, from mortgages to credit cards. Large insurers protested the administration’s decision not to impose a standard, federal regulation on the insurance industry, leaving it to the separate states as at present. Mutual funds succeeded in staying under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission instead of the new consumer protection agency.

Obama cast his proposals as an attempt to find a middle ground between the benefits and excesses of capitalism.

“We are called upon to put in place those reforms that allow our best qualities to flourish – while keeping those worst traits in check,” Obama said.

The president’s plan lands in the lap of a Congress already preoccupied by historic health care legislation, consideration of a new Supreme Court justice and other major issues. Still, Obama has set an ambitious schedule, pushing lawmakers to adopt a new regulatory regime by year’s end.

“We’ll have it done this year,” pledged Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

“Absolutely,” agreed Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

But fissures quickly developed.

Dodd, who had been at Obama’s side in the East Room of the White House for the announcement, raised questions about one of the plan’s key features – giving the Federal Reserve authority to oversee the largest and most interconnected players in the financial world.

“There’s not a lot of confidence in the Fed at this point,” Dodd said.

Obama’s proposal would require the Federal Reserve, which now can independently use emergency powers to bail out failing banks, to first obtain Treasury Department approval before extending credit to institutions in “unusual and exigent circumstances,” a change designed to mollify critics who say the Fed should be more accountable in exercising its powers as a lender of last resort.

But the proposal also would do away with a restriction imposed on the Fed in 1999 when Congress lifted Depression-era restrictions that allowed banks to get into securities and insurance businesses. The Fed, as the regulator for the larger financial holding companies, had been prohibited from examining or imposing restrictions on those firms’ subsidiaries. Obama’s proposal specifically lifts that restriction, giving the Fed the ability to duplicate and even overrule other regulators. At the same time, the new consumer agency would take away some of the Fed’s authority.

Fed defenders argue that none of the major institutional collapses – AIG, Bear Stearns, Lehman Bros., Merrill Lynch or Countrywide – were supervised by the Federal Reserve. Critics argue the Fed failed to crack down on dubious mortgage practices that were at the heart of the crisis.

Administration officials concede their plan responds to the current crisis- in national security terms, it prepares them to fight the last war. But they also insist that a central tenet of their plan is a requirement that from now on financial institutions will have to keep more money in reserve – the best hedge against another meltdown.

That may appear to be a no-brainer: If banks and other large institutions have more money, they won’t be vulnerable if their risky bets go bad.

However, banking regulators have been arguing for years over implementation of an international standard for bank capital. Geithner said Wednesday hoped to move on enhanced capital standards “in parallel with the rest of the world.”

Obama’s overall plan, laid out in an 88-page white paper, was the result of extensive consultations with members of Congress, regulators and industry groups and represented a compromise from bolder ideas the administration ended up abandoning because of heavy opposition.

The plan had its share of winners and losers, both inside and outside government.

Sheila Bair, the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., lost her campaign to have a regulatory council, not the Fed, regulate large firms whose failure could undermine the entire system. SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro also had expressed support for Bair’s push for a more powerful risk council.

The regulatory overhaul ended up eliminating only one agency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, generally considered a weak link among current banking regulators. The OTS oversaw the American International Group, whose business insuring exotic securities blew up last fall, prompting a $182 billion federal bailout.

The failure to merge all four current banking agencies into one super regulator could open the door for big banks to continue to exploit weak links in the current system. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a leading Democratic voice on Wall Street issues, praised the administration’s plan but said he would consider further consolidation.

“We’re removing one major agency-shopping opportunity, but there’s a real potential for others,” said Patricia McCoy, a law professor at the University of Connecticut who has studied bank failures.

Associated Press writers Marcy Gordon, Anne Flaherty, Jeannine Aversa and Stevenson Jacobs contributed to this report.

What We Should Learn from Jim Cramer vs. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart

::What We Should Learn from Jim Cramer vs. the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart::

hp3

March 12th, 2009 by Patrick Byrne

What should we learn from the fact that “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart has in four evenings (1 2 3 and 4) exposed Jim Cramer in a way that, in any sane world, he would have been exposed a decade ago? To answer that, consider these associated facts: while the Jim Cramer constellation of journalists (Mitchell’s Media Mob) backed each other up while covering-up the subject of criminally abusive short selling by hedge funds to whom they were close, four channels of the media broke rank:

  1. Two years ago Bloomberg did a half-hour documentary that broke away from the Party Line;
  2. Liz Moyer at Forbes has covered the real issues fairly and diligently, and another Forbes reporter named Nathan Vardi took a good swipe at the story (”Sewer Pipes“);
  3. Rolling Out Magazine (”an UrbanStyle Weekly serving the African American community”) called me up a couple years ago and did precisely the fair, non-disorted interview of which the remainder of the New York financial media was entirely incapable;
  4. Now, “The Daily Show” has broken ranks by stating the obvious: there are journalists shilling for favored hedge funds.

Could the lesson be that the first news organizations that can break ranks with the Party Line are either fringe (”Rolling Out Magazine” and “The Daily Show”) or the properties of billionaires (Bloomberg and Forbes) who cannot be intimidated?

Perhaps someday, a journalist will look into the pressures that were brought on news organizations (e.g., on Bloomberg leading up to their running “Phantom Shares”). Just a few weeks ago I got the  story, again, from a journalist: “I was working on a story about naked short selling and Deep Capture. Then, suddenly I was stopped. It’s weird because I have been a journalist here for 9 years. I have built a great reputation with my editor, and have never had a story interfered with. But I got a couple months into this story, and suddenly I was stopped from above. I’ve never seen that happen before.” I replied, If you only knew how many times a journalist has said that to me in the last couple years….

Link

The Real Scandal That Will Bring Jim Cramer Down: The Story of Deep Capture

The Columbia School of Journalism is our nation’s finest. They grant the Pulitzer Prize, and their journal, The Columbia Journalism Review, is the profession’s gold standard. CJR reporters are high priests of a decaying temple, tending a flame in a land going dark.

dick-fuldIn 2006 a CJR editor (a seasoned journalist formerly with Time magazine in Asia, The Wall Street Journal Europe, and The Far Eastern Economic Review) called me to discuss suspicions he was forming about the US financial media. I gave him leads but warned, “Chasing this will take you down a rabbit hole with no bottom.” For months he pursued his story against pressure and threats he once described as, “something out of a Hollywood B movie, but unlike the movies, the evil corporations fighting the journalist are not thugs burying toxic waste, they are Wall Street and the financial media itself.”

His exposé reveals a circle of corruption enclosing venerable Wall Street banks, shady offshore financiers, and suspiciously compliant reporters at The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, CNBC, and The New York Times. If you ever wonder how reporters react when a journalist investigates them (answer: like white-collar crooks they dodge interviews, lie, and hide behind lawyers), or if financial corruption interests you, then this is for you. It makes Grisham read like a book of bedtime stories, and exposes a scandal that may make Enron look like an afternoon tea.

By Patrick M. Byrne

Deep Capture Reporter

Make a pot of strong coffee and read this incredible story

Unedited | Cramer Vs. Stewart | Part Three

Unedited | Cramer Vs. Stewart | Part Three

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Part Two | Cramer Vs. Stewart | Unedited

Part Two | Cramer Vs. Stewart | Unedited

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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